Recommended Reads

There will be nuggets of wisdom in almost anything you read about writing and anything by a practising writer, publisher or agent is likely to be best of all. In no particular order, these are the books about the craft that happen to have gathered around my desk over the years:

Becoming a Writer: Dorothea Brande

This little book has been with me since I set out on this writing thing in the early 1990s. It’s short, clear, encouraging and wise about how we writers think.

Reading like a writer: Francine Prose

What If?: Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter

This is another old favourite of mine, one to open anywhere to dip in as well as follow from the beginning to end. Not surpassed by any more recent efforts, and I love the way it asks us to delve into ourselves and our lives to find the stories we need to tell.

Bird by Bird: Anne Lamott

Genius. I love this book.

Do I make myself clear? by Harold Evans

Harold Evans was the highly respected editor of The Sunday Times in London for many years. This book (originally Essential English for journalists, editors and writers) was my first writing primer, with invaluable emphasis on clarity and simplicity.

Into the Woods – How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them: John Yorke

This soap (Eastenders) writer and creator of the BBC Writers’ Academy is useful on stakes and constructing plot, scene by scene.

The Seven Basic Plots

A long, wonderful labour of love by Christopher Booker. My dearest writing friends know this is my Desert Island book.

Creativity: Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

If you think you can drink yourself to literary success, look at this and think again. Drink like a fish, write like a fish.

Release the Bats: DBC Pierre

And then there’s this personal journey to literary success with a chapter about which drugs and drinks will get you through at each stage of writing your book.

The Library of Greek Mythology: Apollodorus

The Greek Myths: Robin Waterfield

Enemies of Promise: Cyril Connolly

Dated in some ways but a timeless combination of advice and memoir.

Stephen King: On Writing

Many people have joined my writing groups inspired by this book. Not only does King’s enthusiasm have the magic to get us started, there’s also a great little section on grammar and syntax. Yep, we all need it.

Writing the Breakout Novel: Donald Maass

This author is a top-selling agent who writes thrillers too. If you want your writing to make money, this is an indispensable read.

You Talkin’ to Me?: Sam Leith

Yes, this is about rhetoric and how it has developed, or not particularly, over more than two thousand years. It’s also very funny.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage

Who’s Afraid of Grammar: Jacqueline Morley

Eats, shoots and leaves: Lynne Truss

You Say Potato: Ben Crystal & David Crystal

A Concise Dictionary of Confusables

Or anything similar that coaches you in the difference between their and they’re, your and you’re.

Book of Intriguing Words

Accidence will happen: Oliver Kamm

Another non-pedantic guide to useful stuff.

The Ode Less Travelled: Stephen Fry

Whatever you feel about Fry, this is the best, most approachable guide to the technicalities of poetry I know.

The Making of a Poem: Mark Strand & Eavan Boland

Poetry Writing: Fiona Sampson